In professor Louise Phillips’ subproject, the object of study was not practices in virtual worlds but practices of research about virtual worlds. The subproject focused on how knowledge about virtual worlds was produced collaboratively by the participating researchers in the virtual worlds project. The virtual worlds project was analysed as a case of collaborative research in which university researchers and a range of practitioners with practical and professional experience of the object of study participated in the research process as co-producers of knowledge.
Collaborative research was conceptualised in the light of a general trend towards dialogue – the so-called dialogic turn – in the production and communication of knowledge (Phillips 2008, 2011a, 2011b).
In the dialogic turn, research-based knowledge is co-produced in interaction between university researchers and practitioners. A conception of communication as processes of dialogue is embraced in which the different participants co-produce knowledge collaboratively on the basis of the different knowledge forms that they bring into play when they collaborate. This conception entails a view of the production and communication of knowledge as intertwined processes since it is in communication processes that the co- production of knowledge takes place (Phillips 2011b).
The aim was to produce an analysis of the complexities of collaborative research practices in the virtual worlds project which
a) could contribute to the development of a theoretical framework for understanding and analysing the dialogic turn in the production and communication of knowledge and
b) could be applied constructively to refine research practices by providing the starting-point for a reflexive discussion among the participants.
The underpinning assumption was that a general condition for all collaborative research is that the realities of collaboration are highly complex and fraught with tensions. Phillips de-romanticises the concept of “co-production” and unpacks its multiple meanings, exploring what is actually meant by “co-production” in a specific collaborative research project – the virtual worlds project – and the implications for questions of researcher-participant relations, power and participation.
Phillips’ subproject explored the following question:
What happens when university researchers cast off their traditional role as sovereign agents of knowledge production (the traditional figures of the academy) and instead invite other actors (practitioners in virtual worlds) into the research process as partners and co-producers of knowledge?
The focus here was on how knowledge was co-produced through negotiations across the different knowledge forms of the university research team and the practitioner-partners. To pursue this focus, the more specific question was addressed: How is knowledge created through the negotiation of knowledge forms in social interaction among the different participating actors in collaborative research about virtual worlds?
The methods of data production were participant observation and audio-recordings of workshops on virtual worlds. These workshops represented fora in which the university researchers and partners carried out research together. Topics for discussion and group work included the potential and limitations of Second Life for social and cultural innovation, the concept of innovation itself, the Danish media discourse on Second Life, and libraries in Second Life.
Through an interplay between theory and data (and in interaction with Phillips’ other case studies), Phillips further developed a theoretical framework entitled the Integrated Framework for Analysing Dialogic Knowledge Production and Communication (IFADIA). IFADIA builds on theories from across three research traditions – dialogic communication theory, action research and science and technology studies. Dialogic communication theory was drawn on in order to theorise communication in terms of a tensional approach to dialogue. Action research and science and technology studies of the turn to dialogue in science/society relations were enlisted in order to theorise the nature of co-produced knowledges and relations between the participating actors in collaborative practices. Action research provided insights into the tensions that arose in the co-production of knowledge. Science and technology studies provided insights based on detailed empirical analyses of the tensions in the shift to dialogue in the governance of research. In addition, IFADIA drew on a social constructionist discourse analytical approach that asserts that our knowledge of the world – including our experience of self and others – is constructed in discourses that give meaning to the world from particular perspectives. IFADIA incorporated a poststructuralist Foucauldian understanding of power as a productive and constraining force, responsible both for creating our social world and for the particular ways in which the world is formed and can be talked about, ruling out alternative ways of being and talking (Foucault 1980). This led to a critical perspective on the inevitable operation of power/knowledge in collaborative research practices.
This Foucauldian take on dialogue underpinned a focus not on whether or not certain voices dominate but on the nature of the interplay of dominant voices, articulating dominant, authorised knowledges, and subordinate voices, articulating subjugated knowledges that are unacknowledged as knowledge or treated as inferior (Foucault 2003). The enactment of dialogue in the virtual worlds research project was analysed in terms of discourse analysis as a central sign within a discourse of dialogue which constitutes power/knowledge in particular ways that marginalise or exclude other ways of knowing and doing.
IFADIA contains a call for reflexivity about the inevitable operation of dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, and advocates that reflexive analysis should build on empirical, complexity-sensitive study of the tensions in the enactment of dialogue. In developing IFADIA in the course of the subproject, Phillips followed a critical, reflexive approach that, at one and the same time, interrogated the complexities, tensions and dilemmas inherent in the enactment of “dialogue” and was oriented towards further developing collaborative research practices from a position normatively supportive of dialogue.